Hiking in Banff

We had chosen to dedicate more time to the Banff National Park as it seemed as though there were more hikes at my level, a bigger township to relax in and it was also closer to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. It was a good choice, as in our planning we hadn’t even looked at Canmore activities and it turns out there was lots to do there too. 

I had eyeballed four probable hikes for Banff (four days, it should work well right?) but I hadn’t at all factored in that the couple we were with were less inclined to want to spend their days hiking. I also had no contingency plan for if one of the hikes was closed (why would it be closed?) so when we went to hike the Johnston Canyon, I got quite a shock when we learnt the road had actually been closed all summer! Nevertheless, we still did two moderate hikes, both of which were extremely enjoyable.

Sulfur Mountain is a hike probably better undertaken in previous years, where the hot pools at the start of the hike could be utilised at the end. Due to Covid-19, this wasn’t an option to us, but we still thought the hike would be worth doing. Unfortunately the beginnings of the smoke from the USA were starting to drift up into Canada so although we didn’t know it, our views were going to be significantly impeded. 

We knew from AllTrails that the hike was going to be a steady and relentless upwards incline. That was certainly correct information! It was basically switchbacks from the get-go, for about 3.8km continuously. The pace set by the others was certainly out of my league, so I popped on a podcast and was on my merry way. At the 3.8km mark however, I learnt that Nick’s long term injury was providing him with some niggle, so him and Jocelyn opted to turn around and head back down. Andy and I continued onwards; after about 300 metres we actually reached the top! The last 900 metres were along a mostly flat boardwalk, past the gondola and a cosmic ray station to the summit. There should have been panorama views, but the haze from the smoke meant these views were not clear and definitely not photo-worthy. Andy and I boosted down; it was easier on our joints to jog, much to the astonishment of those coming up.

The other hike we did was the Plain of the Six Glaciers at Lake Louise. Nick and Jocelyn opted out of this one, probably mostly because of the early start! Our alarms went off at 5.45am and we were out of the door by 6am – all to get to the carpark at Lake Louise before it filled up for the day. At 6.54am we drove past Moraine and it was already shut! We couldn’t believe it and were preparing ourselves for the worst when successfully pulled into the Lake Louise carpark, moments before 7am. We ate our breakfast in the car and waited for it to settle before hoisting our bags on our back and starting the hike.

The trail was well sign posted and relatively well maintained all the way to the Six Glaciers teahouse. It was mostly one way traffic, probably due to the time of day. The trail became progressively steeper and narrower for the last 1.5km after the teahouse. We reached the stoney slopes that looked across at the Abbot Pass Hutt in time for lunch, where we sat and watched for parts of the glacier breaking away with a thunderous crack and exploding into powder when they hit the ground below. It was amazing to watch and didn’t happen often, so it was really hard to peel our eyes away.

On our way back down, at the teahouse we opted to stay high and head across to Lake Agnes, its teahouse, and Mirror Lake. The terrain was pretty easy for this duration, and we were rewarded with lots of wildflowers, a stunning view of Lake Agnes and again, not too many people. The teahouse was absolutely packed, so we didn’t stay long, instead opting to rest at a spot just around the lake. The Big Beehive was looking at us, inviting us, but on this occasion we weren’t tempted to climb it. Partly because we had already been hiking for several hours, and also because we were due back for afternoon activities with Jocelyn and Nick.

As we boosted down from Mirror Lake, somehow we managed to get ourselves on the horse trail. The first indication was the horse shoe prints through all the mud, followed by the undeniable smell of horse manure. We weren’t worried until our trail left the marked trails on the AllTrails app, and we didn’t see a single person for what felt like a very long time. I’m not sure what we were more concerned about; bears or getting lost! We pushed on and eventually we popped out behind the Fairmont at Lake Louise. 

It was a fabulous hike and I am really glad we decided to combine the Six Glaciers hike and the Lake Agnes hike into one trip. It was a big day, but I was thankful to not have to do that early morning for a second time. On our way out, we were interested to see whether Lake Moraine had since reopened to the public – conveniently but annoyingly, it was not, meaning we could get home ASAP for our afternoon activities with Nick and Jos!

(The hike we didn’t do that I would have liked to have done is just an easy 1-2 hour return trip of Tunnel Mountain, located right in downtown Banff. It is meant to be moderately steep, with switchbacks that pass through the forest up to the summit which boats incredible views of the town, surrounding mountains and the Bow River.)

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